The Province of BC was set to plant 308 million trees this spring, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put major brakes on the situation.
The key issue is what to do with the hundreds of people who would be relocating to work camps across the province, according to the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.
This was set to be one of the biggest year’s for tree planting ever, because of the need to replenish forests not only from logging, but the wildfires from 2017 and 2018, as well as to help with climate change.
“With the support of BC Timber Sales (BCTS) and the Western Forestry Contractor’s Association (WFCA), the chief forester suggested delaying the spring 2020 Interior planting season to implement proper workcamp processes,” said Dawn Makarowski, the media contact for the Ministry of Forests.
“Collaborative processes between government, BCTS, licensees and the WFCA have been underway to prepare for this year’s planting season in light of COVID-19. These include camp health and safety procedures, workforce support, communications, and engagement with municipal leaders,” she wrote.
The government understands the importance of the tree planting plans, and wants to continue with it, she said, but is still trying to find ways to manage the risks that will come up in it.
Earl Hughes owns Waterside Ventures, a reforesting company, in Burns Lake. He’s supposed to plant around 3 million trees starting in May of this year, with a team of around 40 planters. But right now, he’s not entirely sure what his options are.
“People are coming from all across Canada, and so when they get here, we don’t know if there’s going to be restrictions for them to isolate for a while or not… That’s the big question right now,” said Hughes.
While some of the other tree plants that were supposed to start in April have been delayed, he hasn’t need to worry too much just yet because he has a few weeks until his start date. But it’s growing closer each day. He suspects he will have to keep the tree planters separate somehow, but hasn’t been told by Ministry what the specifics of this will be.
He’s considering having them stay in motels, and plant in isolation, as well as cooking food from his home to bring to them for their dinners.
Sometimes his company has work camps for planters—like many other tree planting companies do, sometimes with as much as 50 people grouped together—but this, too, could be a problem. Having people sit together for dinner is likely out of the question for now, because of COVID-19, so managing even just dining would be very difficult.
The Ministry had a meeting last week to draft up regulations for tree planting this year, and Hughes is still waiting to hear the results.
And of course, money is at stake—companies like his have already hired people, and purchased equipment and the trees—but there’s also the life of the trees, as well, he said.
“The trees are frozen, and they’re under storage. They can only stay in storage until July, then they start deteriorating,” he said, adding that to his knowledge at some point the trees would be frozen too long and become worthless.
Hughes has owned his company since 1981. In his almost 40 years of this work, he’s never dealt with something quite like this before.
“Sometimes we have problems with crews not showing up or stuff like that… And sometimes we have delays. But nothing as wild as this,” he said.